Friday, January 15, 2016

The Aussie character—love of romanticised failure

As we close in on Australia Day (1) I reflect on the positive attributes of what many perceive as being part of the Australian character.

Like embracing romanticised failure. We do this primarily with Gallipoli, a failed military campaign but which became a Homeric start point for the idea of the gritty Aussie larrikin whose fettle under fire proves to be fine. The overall failure is not the point; it's the courage, grit, mateship, and improvisation during the tale that grabs us. Case in point my favourite part of Gallipoli being the how we fucked off from there without losing anyone to enemy fire in part because of a cunning trick with self-firing rifle shooting via dripping water (2).

Ned Kelly is another classic Aussie embrace of failure. He was a late-19th century outlaw most famous for his homebrew bulletproof plate armour and helmet that he wore when he took on the plods in his final encounter

Here are some fun excerpts from the Wiki:

The gang members were equipped with armour that repelled bullets (but left the legs unprotected). They made these with the intention of further robbing banks, as the gang were short of money. The police had been informed by their spies about the armour that the gang had tested it with bullets at ten paces, but dismissed these stories (the armour had been made in the district by a man well known to the police, although the proof was insufficient for a conviction). Each man's armour weighed about 44 kilograms (97 lb). All four had helmets. Byrne's was said to be the best, with the brow reaching down to the nose piece, almost forming two eye slits. All wore grey cotton coats reaching past the knees over the armour.


In the early morning light, Kelly then attacked the police from the rear, dressed in a long white overcoat and wearing an iron mask. He was armed only with a revolver. He moved coolly from tree to tree, returning fire. Sergeant Steele, Senior-constable Kelly and a railway guard named Dowsett charged him. The latter was only armed with a revolver. They fired at him with no effect. Sergeant Steele realised that Kelly's legs were unprotected and brought him down with two shots, with Kelly crying, "I am done—I am done." 

That's Australian. We admire the outlaw, we admire the tenacity and the gumption, but we also love our capacity to acknowledge the epic fail.

If this was a role-playing game using lethal combat rules the encounter would have gone like this:

Game Master (GM)—Ned Kelly steps out with a revolver. He has a pot helmet on with an eye-slit and a long grey coat. He wears an iron breastplate beneath it. It is the armour the spies spoke of!

Player—Is there any armour on his legs?

GM—Er, no.

Player—I shoot him twice in the legs (rolls dice, hits called location and does damage).

GM (after calculating the effect)—He falls down yelling "I am done—I am done."

Player—What a cock-spank.

(1) A day we should nob off and instead just have 2 January as an extra public holiday with New Year's Day combining with Federation of Australia Day, the day we became our own country (sort of). I think Ozzers would love another double day off so close to the previous duo of Xmas (slash) Boxing and would embrace it and we can discard January 26 to the bin with all its massively loaded unpleasantness of the unintended consequences of white settlement that resulted in near genocide of First Australian people and their culture. 
(2) I love that the man who invented it was named William Scurry—because we scurried so successfully away.

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